Author: John

Most popular posts of 2018

Here are 10 of my most popular posts this year, arranged as pairs of posts in different areas. Astronomy Planets evenly spaced on a log scale Gravity, stars, and cows Programming Viability of unpopular programming languages Currying in various contexts Computer arithmetic The quadratic formula in low-precision arithmetic Eight-bit floating point Math Computing SVD and […]

New prime record: 51st Mersenne prime discovered

A new prime record was announced yesterday. The largest known prime is now Written in hexadecimal the newly discovered prime is For decades the largest known prime has been a Mersenne prime because there’s an efficient test for checking whether a Mersenne number is prime. I explain the test here. There are now 51 known […]

Multi-arm adaptively randomized clinical trials

This post will look at adaptively randomized trial designs. In particular, we want to focus on multi-arm trials, i.e. trials of more than two treatments. The aim is to drop the less effective treatments quickly so the trial can focus on determining which of the better treatments is best. We’ll briefly review our approach to […]

Kepler and the contraction mapping theorem

The contraction mapping theorem says that if a function moves points closer together, then there must be some point the function doesn’t move. We’ll make this statement more precise and give a historically important application. Definitions and theorem A function f on a metric space X is a contraction if there exists a constant q with […]

Trademark symbol, LaTeX, and Unicode

Earlier this year I was a coauthor on a paper about the Cap Score™ test for male fertility from Androvia Life Sciences [1]. I just noticed today that when I added the publication to my CV, it caused some garbled text to appear in the PDF. Here is the corresponding LaTeX source code. Fixing the […]

RSA with one shared prime

The RSA encryption setup begins by finding two large prime numbers. These numbers are kept secret, but their product is made public. We discuss below just how difficult it is to recover two large primes from knowing their product. Suppose two people share one prime. That is, one person chooses primes p and q and the other chooses p […]

Following an idea to its logical conclusion

Following an idea to its logical conclusion might be extrapolating a model beyond its valid range. Suppose you have a football field with area A. If you make two parallel sides twice as long, then the area will be 2A. If you double the length of the sides again, the area will be 4A. Following this […]

Technological optimism

Kevin Kelly is one of the most optimistic people writing about technology, but there’s a nuance to his optimism that isn’t widely appreciated. Kelly sees technological progress as steady and inevitable, but not monotone. He has often said that new technologies create almost as many problems as they solve. Maybe it’s 10 steps forward and […]

RSA with Pseudoprimes

RSA setup Recall the setup for RSA encryption given in the previous post. Select two very large prime numbers p and q. Compute n = pq and φ(n) = (p – 1)(q – 1). Choose an encryption key e relatively prime to φ(n). Calculate the decryption key d such that ed = 1 (mod φ(n)). Publish e and n, and keep d, p, and q secret. φ is Euler’s totient function, defined here. There’s a complication in the first […]

Can I have the last four digits of your social?

Imagine this conversation. “Could you tell me your social security number?” “Absolutely not! That’s private.” “OK, how about just the last four digits?” “Oh, OK. That’s fine.” When I was in college, professors would post grades by the last four digits of student social security numbers. Now that seems incredibly naive, but no one objected […]

RSA encryption exponents are mostly all the same

The big idea of public key cryptography is that it lets you publish an encryption key e without compromising your decryption key d. A somewhat surprising detail of RSA public key cryptography is that in practice e is nearly always the same number, specifically e = 65537. We will review RSA, explain how this default e was chosen, and discuss why […]

Revealing information by trying to suppress it

FAS posted an article yesterday explaining how blurring military installations out of satellite photos points draws attention to them, showing exactly where they are and how big they are. The Russian mapping service Yandex Maps blurred out sensitive locations in Israel and Turkey. As the article says, this is an example of the Streisand effect, […]

Numerical methods blog posts

I recently got a review copy of Scientific Computing: A Historical Perspective by Bertil Gustafsson. I thought that thumbing through the book might give me ideas for new topics to blog about. It still may, but mostly it made me think of numerical methods I’ve already blogged about. In historical order, or at least in the […]

Simulating identification by zip code, sex, and birthdate

As mentioned in the previous post, Latanya Sweeney estimated that 87% of Americans can be identified by the combination of zip code, sex, and birth date. We’ll do a quick-and-dirty estimate and a simulation to show that this result is plausible. There’s no point being too realistic with a simulation because the actual data that […]

No funding for uncomfortable results

In 1997 Latanya Sweeney dramatically demonstrated that supposedly anonymized data was not anonymous. The state of Massachusetts had released data on 135,000 state employees and their families with obvious identifiers removed. However, the data contained zip code, birth date, and sex for each individual. Sweeney was able to cross reference this data with publicly available […]

Sine of a googol

How do you evaluate the sine of a large number in floating point arithmetic? What does the result even mean? Sine of a trillion Let’s start by finding the sine of a trillion (1012) using floating point arithmetic. There are a couple ways to think about this. The floating point number t = 1.0e12 can only […]

Six degrees of Kevin Bacon, Paul Erdos, and Wikipedia

I just discovered the web site Six Degrees of Wikipedia. It lets you enter two topics and it will show you how few hops it can take to get from one to the other. Since the mathematical equivalent of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is Six degrees of Paul Erdős, I tried looking for the […]

Mersenne prime trend

Mersenne primes have the form 2p -1 where p is a prime. The graph below plots the trend in the size of these numbers based on the 50 51 Mersenne primes currently known. The vertical axis plots the exponents p, which are essentially the logs base 2 of the Mersenne primes. The scale is logarithmic, so […]

Spherical trig, Research Triangle, and Mathematica

This post will look at the triangle behind North Carolina’s Research Triangle using Mathematica’s geographic functions. Spherical triangles A spherical triangle is a triangle drawn on the surface of a sphere. It has three vertices, given by points on the sphere, and three sides. The sides of the triangle are portions of great circles running […]

Visualizing data breaches

The image below is a static screen shot of an interactive visualization of the world’s biggest data breaches. The site lets you filter the data by industry and type of breach. See the site for credits and the raw data.